Thursday, September 29, 2011

On Twisting Words

[See my comment thread below for a partial retraction. It now looks to me as if a paraphrase of Randy Hughes in the DE would indeed allow for the Chancellor's interpretation. I remain sure that Randy Hughes meant what I suggest below that he meant, but that is far from clear from the DE story itself. Whether or not she or her scribe knew better, the Chancellor's version is a plausible reading of the newspaper story itself. She is perhaps guilty of inadequate care in characterizing her opponent's position--particularly if she said, as I thought she did, that a FA leader had been "quoted" as saying this. But that's a more venal sin than that I attribute to her below. I've relegated the controversy I raised to below the break. ]

The Chancellor's rhetoric at her State of the University Speech today was pretty sly on the whole (which I, as a fan of rhetoric, can appreciate). She implied, without every quite explicitly saying as much, that all the unions wanted was more money, and that the only way to get them more money would be to gouge students by increasing tuition. She, on the other hand, had heroically saved jobs, 75 in fact, by cutting salaries, rather than, say, using the furlough money to pay for athletics, new construction on campus, marketing, new "non-faculty professionals" etc. But we've been down this path before, with administrators insisting that money cannot be moved from pot to pot, unless they move it from a bad pot (layoffs) to a less bad pot (furloughs), in which case they are happy to take credit.

Here's where she crossed the line. She said that a member of the FA leadership had said the following to the media. I don't have her transcript and my note taking skills aren't stellar, but this will reflect the substance of the matter: let others correct me if it does not.

"Increased funding from tuition should meet cuts in state funding".

Stripped from any context, and put in her context, this implies that we were advocating tuition hikes to meet cuts in state funding. The FA has never done any such thing. Rather, we were simply commenting that the tuition hike already passed, together with natural increases under the truth in tuition law, meant that already approved tuition hikes would compensate for lost funding this year. "Should" was a prediction of what was going to happen this year, given decisions already taken.  It was not a statement about decisions that should be made in order to meet the financial crunch.

Cheng did not supply the exact source of this remark, and I couldn't track it down at once. No doubt someone will (yes, that's a request to you, dear readers). And I will eat my hat if you can find a context in which I or any other member of the FA leadership can be found advocating a tuition hike (yes, that's a challenge, which could result in an ugly video posting on the blog).

You may, if you buy the administration's take on where the money is, argue that to promise faculty and staff any salary level at all (which is essentially all we are "demanding") would result in a tuition hike if the state budget crisis results in huge cuts to SIUC. That is, you may argue that tuition hikes would be a consequence of our position. You'd be wrong. Note that the FA has offered to tie salary hikes to the budget, so that there would be no raises if the budget went south--but you'd have an argument. Note that we are in a coalition with graduate students, who would pay the increased tuition, and so should drop us at once if that's our position. So you'd be making a bad argument. Your conclusion would be false. But you wouldn't be lying.

More later on the State of the University, perhaps.  SIUC Unions United has already posted a quick summary.


  1. Check the Tuesday, Sept. 27, edition of the Daily Egyptian.

    Front page...the story headlined, "Unions express concerns, need for strike vote."

    Middle column of the story.

    "Hughes said the financial challenges the university faces come from state funding but that money has become a smaller portion of the university's overall budget. He said the increase in tuition from year to year should cover the losses from the state."

    Maybe you can get the DE to take a few pics of you eating your hat.

  2. Before Dr. Johnson peppers his hat, I don't think you have quite met his challenge, Anonymous 4:01. Is Dr. Hughes calling for a tuition hike in this paraphrase from the notoriously "accurate" DE? I don't think so.

    His argument is that the Administration's rationale for already imposed tuition hikes has been to cover the shortfall of state funds. Further, that if you have used the shrinking contributions of the state to justify tuition hikes, you cannot "double dip" into that argument to justify unpaid administrative closures, layoffs, and the like.

    You would be putting words in Dr. Hughes's mouth (really in the DE reporter's mouth who is summarizing what s/he understood Dr. Hughes to be saying) to say that he was calling for further tuition hikes to pay for any FA demands.

    It is certainly a point of dispute whether those hikes in tuition have countered the drop in state funds. Dispute Dr. Hughes on that point, by all means. But let's take the unmade claims (as well as the hats) out of mouths where they don't belong.

    Thanks for clarifying the source of the confusion. It helps to see exactly how far out of context the Chancellor took this paraphrase.

  3. Randy is a mathematician. When said "should" I think meant as a likelihood estimate. Like in, "I have $10 on me, that should cover the cost of lunch." It does not sound like he meant should as in, "You should give me $10 so I can get lunch."

  4. It does look like the DE paraphrase is largely to blame here. It is indeed possible to understand the paraphrase as the Chancellor did (whether she knew she was distorting it or not).

    My own ruling is that I don't need to eat my hat. But I'll issue a partial retraction to this piece above.

    The DE story can be found here

  5. You're ignoring the article, Dave. The definite article makes "should" mean expectation, not advocacy or duty: "the increase in tuition from year to year should cover the losses from the state" means that the increase has already been established or planned, that one expects it and is now explaining its consequences (he's not referring to a policy he himself has advocated here, because there's no reference to it in the piece). If Randy were advocating an increase, that's how it would read: "an increase in tuition from year to year should cover the losses from the state." One not already established, but which I'm advocating—thus the use of the indefinite. As a result, your headnote is wrong: this isn't a plausible misinterpretation of that paraphrase.

  6. Ryan,

    As much as close reading is important to you, I hope you would acknowledge that not everyone reads that carefully. I think it would be fair for you to disappointed in the chancellor for carelessness reading, but I don't think her misinterpretation is necessarily a sign of malice.

  7. Ryan's right. Paranoid may be too. We're all right--except the Chancellor who is--surprise!--wrong, but may not quite have been proven malicious beyond a reasonable doubt in this case. For my part, I'm going to declare a hung jury and move on.

  8. Isn't carelessness just malice playing dumb? But you're right, in part. I don't really care about motives. Only grammar.

  9. You are a generous advocate, Dave. But to be clear, even in this particular article there is no evidence that the FA advocates tuition hikes to support competitive and COL salary increases or any other contract proposal. Because it doesn't!

    Whatever quibbles one might have over he said/she said/the DE said, this is the point that should not be lost.

  10. OK,

    So where should the $ come from? If more $ are going out, more $ must come in. Where does the FA propose we get those $

  11. Technically the FA can't propose where the $ come from that because it would be considered usurping the role of administrators, but individually, we have our opinions.

    Reduced spending on administrators and their executive / professional assistants through attrition be would be one place. (Dave's information indicates that getting our spending on "Executive/Administrative/Managerial" or "Professional Non-Faculty" in line with our peers could save $59 million dollars / year).

    Bringing athletic spending down would be another. Yes, this one could involve a tuition increase, but it would be a tuition increase offset by an equal reduction of athletic fees. Students would either see no net effect on their price to attend the university, or for GAs, it would reduce their bills. (Dave's information indicates that SIUC outspends the other schools in the Missouri Valley Conference by $5 million / year.)

  12. Another change would be working more closely with the SIU Foundation to encourage Foundation spending that directly benefits students.

    In my opinion $30 million for a Foundation - Alumni building is a lot of money for that purpose. Imagine what $10 million from the Foundation for facilities for students could do if the Foundation were willing to have a $20 million building instead.

  13. Do you honestly think that the Foundation is spending $10 million more than it has to to get the functionality it needs in its new building? Do you believe that if they could have got what they need for $20 million that they would have decided to spend 30 million just for the sake of doing so? That's the problem with FA accounting, its all talk and no substance.

  14. 9:15

    That's right. In a bureaucracy, units only ask for the bare minimum amount necessary. They never inflate their projected costs. Never.

    And never mind that the Foundation is an appallingly poor performing unit on this campus. For a University of this size and age to have an endowment of only $40 million is astounding. But, by all means, let's reward them for such excellent work with a nice new building.

  15. What units ask for and what they get are two different things. The costs for new buildings and similar large capital projects are based on detailed engineering studies and submitted bids, not on what they asked for.

    No argument re the performance of the foundation, nor will I disagree re the endowment, but do you think that the now-inevitable strike is going to help encourage our alums to give more?

  16. 10:24 AM,

    While I hope we don't have a strike, if we do, and if it gets very ugly, I hope we get new leadership out of this. Poshard means well for the most part but he just does not have enough knowledge of higher ed to make things work.

    The crux of SIUC's problem is two fold: leadership is chosen based on political connections and because of this undergrad admissions is based on political correctness. Thus we are stuck with declining enrollment while desperately trying to retain students whose ACT scores are in the mid teens.

    Even if the contract disputes are resolved without a strike, which is still very possible, the larger problem remains. Even if the economy recovers and Illinois gets its budget act together, the larger problem remains. I hope BOT members and state leaders start to realize this.

    On the alum bldg: why build it at all?

  17. Poshard does not "mean well." He was responsible for hiring Cheng and obviously has given her an agenda to remove tenure and bust unions. Remember that this pathetic little man was refused support by the NEA when he campaigned for Governor. Also, he is a great advertisement for this place since he plagiarized his dissertation and was allowed to get away with it.

  18. The cost of an alumni and foundation building depends on how big and how grand the building is, so there is a choice involved.

    University of Rhode Island (2005) $4 million

    Marshall University (2010) $9 million

    University of Oregon (2011) $33.6 million

    University of Minnesota (2000) $45 million


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